What if your government told you that wearing necklaces was no longer legal? Necklaces, you see, might symbolize all sorts of things. Someone probably gave you that necklace; clearly, that means that they have laid a claim to you as their property.
The burka ban
What if your government told you that wearing necklaces was no longer legal? Necklaces, you see, might symbolize all sorts of things. Someone probably gave you that necklace; clearly, that means that they have laid a claim to you as their property. They’re subjugating your human rights. Worse yet, perhaps someone suggested you wear that necklace. That means that they’re taking away your right to express yourself. Not to mention that necklaces, such as lockets, might be big enough to hide dangerous things. You would never choose to wear that necklace of your own free will, your government tells you, so they’re going to free you from this oppression. They ban necklaces.
It sounds ridiculous, but it’s not so far from belief. In France, in fact, the government recently passed a resolution banning the wearing of burkas, niqabs, and other face-covering garments common in the Muslim faith, stating that it was necessary to protect human rights. But this isn’t an attempt to really help people. It isn’t a way to help Muslim women or to ensure the safety of the French population. This truly is nothing more than strictly an expression of fear—and fear gone too far at that.
Those defending the ban argue that the burka is forced upon the women who wear it. Popular belief in most of France, if not the entire world, is that women who wear burkas or other religiously required dressing do not do so by choice. They believe that the dressings themselves limit personal expression and subjugate women. By outlawing the garments altogether, they believe they will restore free will to these “oppressed” women.
What proponents of the ban do not take into account is that they themselves are, in fact, limiting the expression of the women in question. The decision to wear any religious garment, whether a face covering or a long skirt, is a personal one. It is a simple lifestyle choice for some, or a way to identify themselves as a part of a community for others. Rarely do people wear niqabs or burkas due to coercion or some other force. But the French government makes no distinction about this.
“Given the damage it produces on those rules which allow the life in community, ensure the dignity of the person and equality between sexes, this practice, even if it is voluntary, cannot be tolerated in any public place,” the French government stated when the law was first announced. To them, the possibility of inequality is more dangerous than governmental control of personal expression.
An online poll on www.yougov.uk in April found a high level of support for the ban, with almost 70 percent of respondents in favor of the law. Those who dissented were mostly young people and self-identified “liberal” voters. The majority of the respondents in favor were voters over the age of sixty, both conservative and liberal alike.
The people who most support the ban are those who lived through the conflicts in Afghanistan, Kuwait, and Iraq throughout the last half of the twentieth century. These people have been taught to look at the Muslim faith as something to be feared. With conflicts in the Middle East growing over the past decade, that fear has crept into the daily life of all citizens. Age-old fears have been reignited and reaffirmed for the older generation and are now being introduced to the younger generations. By banning the burka—the most obvious expression of Muslim faith—the government is acting to assuage fear in the wrong ways.
This ban is wrong. It teaches the young people of France, as well as other nearby nations, that banning the rights of one group is all right if it makes the majority feel better. It tells the world that France—once seen as a land where those being persecuted were free to live and thrive—does not support freedom of religious expression. It teaches the youth of the entire world that hatred and fear, when in control, can limit the rights of anybody—and that this is all right.
It’s a slippery slope, and it is anything but right. The French “burka ban,” as it has come to be known, is a step backwards. It might be the beginning of any number of “rational” behaviors that really trample on the basis of human rights. Yes, the necklace example at the start of this column is a little extreme, but watch out. If manners of thought such as this are allowed to permeate the highest levels of government anywhere, it might not be too far from reality after all. ?